Why Do Atheists Get Married? Asks Christian Woman October 16, 2009

Why Do Atheists Get Married? Asks Christian Woman

A reader — let’s call her Jane — is part of a message board where members discuss marriage and family.

Jane recently posted that she and her husband needed marriage counseling because of communication problems. Some of the forum members suggested church counseling and Jane declined. She said she was an atheist and faith-based counseling wasn’t for her.

That led to this unbelievable response from one woman:

I respect your religious views. Don’t get it wrong but Girlfriend if you don’t believe in the God who formed you how the heck do you think two individuals with two different personalities (A man and woman) can make it without God. Oh, and not to be wrong Jesus created marriage. So why the heck are you even married if you don’t believe in God. Shacking up is the normal way that people that don’t believe in God go. I know this was more fact than help but I’m a counselor for my church and this is a regular thing now a day. You know what it would be even more educational for me if you could respond and let me know WHY DO ATHEIST GET MARRIED?

Can a Christian please decipher and provide answers to this collection of “fact”?

The atheists here would do it, but apparently, we’re too busy sodomizing each other to type out a response.

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  • MH

    The simple answer to the nut job respondent is that marriage is also civil contract which provides both parties with legal protections. Has she missed the gay marriage debate or something?

    If Jane still needs an answer many social workers and psychologists have training in marriage counseling. Their approach will be secular unless they are a pastoral counselor which is usually a member of the clergy with a social work or psychology degree.

  • Matt

    Since when did atheism become a “religious view”? Is not believing in leprechauns a religious view, too? Who is the Pope of Atheism? Do all atheists worship in atheist churches? You cannot determine the belief system of an atheist beyond their rejection of deities, because there are no atheist symbols, mandated atheist services, etc. Furthermore, marriage is a stablizing social contract in modern society in which two loving individuals enter. Is this woman implying that all non-Christians cannot marry, feel compassion, love unconditionally, etc?

    Also, social contracts (marriage) are used for financial purposes, as well. Throughout her terribly ignorant response, this woman assumes that her religion is absolutely indisputable, that anyone who weds must subscribe to her religious beliefs, etc. Jesus did certainly not “create” marriage, and the claim that he “created” mankind is only supported by her religious convictions. Realistically speaking, it’s not an indisputable fact.

    As an atheist, I marry because the feeling of love is not bound to one religion. It is a universal feeling, mutually shared between two individuals. I’m sorry, but “shacking up” does not provide the same societal benefits. Marriage is a bonding contract with an immense amount of protections, benefits, etc.

    Furthermore, every Christian I encounter seems to assume that you must marry in a church. Untrue. I married in the backyard of my property, and my cousin, who is also an atheist, married at a rented city hall with his family.

  • Where does this lunatic idea that Jesus created marriage come from? Weren’t people married in the old testament?

  • Alli S

    Hahaha Jesus invented marriage? So all those historically documented marriages before “Jesus” could have possibly existed are planted by Satan?

  • Why marry? For the tax break of course, duh…

  • Wowbagger

    ‘Weren’t people married in the old testament?’

    Yes. Apparently one of Jesus’ many amazing superpowers is to be able to travel backwards through time to affect people who lived before he was born!

  • bd

    If Jesus created marriage does that mean his parents were living in sin?

  • Matt

    Sure, the tax breaks and other societal benefits are nice, but this woman seemed to be implying that the idea of two humans deeply loving each other is exclusive to Christianity. That is certainly untrue. Marriage contracts constitute a stablizing bond in society, regardless of your religious convictions, and having your civil bond acknowledged by the state is very important for taxes, organizing end-of-life decisions, etc.

    Does she also wonder why married atheists have children? Hell, why do those darn atheists choose to participate in modern society at all?


  • Jesus created marriage?

    I don’t understand why so many Christians think they are the authority on marriage. The Bible is full of incest, polygamy, and other odd sexual mores and relationships (Tamar, anyone?). And where does Jesus, the supposedly single guy, say much of anything about marriage? Paul railed against it. So when did marriage become a Christian thing? And yeah, my favorite part of the Bible is the wedding of Adam and Eve, so they wouldn’t have to live in sin!

    Why get married? Because you want to! It’s not a religious thing, it’s a cultural thing. Maybe even genetic. That’s why you get married. Even non Judeo Christian cultures have the concept of marriage.

  • “I respect your religious views.” followed by disrespect of her view of religion.

    Sort of like…

    “I respect black people” right before explaining why whites and blacks shouldn’t get married.

    “I respect gays” right before telling a gay person why they’re going to hell.

    You have to do it, not say it, to have respect for someone. That’s a lesson that, sadly, doesn’t make into Sunday school for some reason.

  • MH

    defiantskeptic and bd. You’re forgetting your Mr Deity videos. In the first season Mr Deity made Jesus a full partner. Since Mr Deity created everything, Jesus gets credit too since he’s a full partner!

  • And this woman is a counselor in her church? What, does she subscribe to the views of Jay Adams and the like? Sounds like it! Tell her to read her Bible a little bit more and theologians who think they know psychology less!

  • Matt

    Some Christians genuinely believe that this question is a “gotcha” moment for atheists, but it only reveals their cultural ignorance and religious bias. Moronic stuff.

  • Tuani

    Oh crap! No one ever told me that Jesus invented marriage and that only Christian’s could be married! Have I been living my whole life with the false hope of marrying? Oh wait, NO! Jesus obviously didn’t create marriage since people were married long before he showed up! And bd, love your comment about if Jesus created marriage then wouldn’t his parents have been living in sin! Hilarious! Nowhere in Christian writings does it say Jesus created marriage! Marriage is a beautiful, loving expression of two peoples feelings towards one another. Even Christians don’t always get married in a church! Marriage is only a ‘religious’ event when you are making it one, otherwise it is whatever you deem it to be! Try getting married without a legal license, that church ceremony doesn’t mean a thing legally without the license and so the ceremony wont even be performed until you have one! Marriage lies in my future and no moron without true knowledge of their own religious beliefs is going to stop me, nor should it you! Peace!

  • MH

    I have some bad news for those singles who think there are tax breaks for being married. Not only are there no tax breaks, but there’s a tax penalty for being married!

    Speaking from personal experience a dual income couple in an East Coast city can expect to get socked big time once they’re married.

  • Ramon Caballero

    Wow, yeah, I asked a friend of mine “Why wouldn’t you get married already?”, because he was already living with his girlfriend and he answered: “I am not a religious person”; WTF! I said, I am atheist, you are not, Marriage has nothing to do with religion, I mean I know you can get a religious wedding and make it legal, but marriage is about commitment, I told him: If you want to commit to her for the rest of your life, get married, if not, that’s fine; but not being religious has nothing to do.
    Yes, it is a contract, it is a commitment, it gives security to you, to her, to the future children and that is a human need, security, the contract (Marriage) is a way to get a hold of that security for yourself and for the people you care (and will care).
    I’ve got married when I was 20 years old, because I knew it was going to be the most important thing I would do in my life, and the beginning for the next important things, I’ve got married twice, the religious one (for my wife) and the secular (for real 🙂 ).
    Being happily married for just 15 years, at least 50 to go.
    Oh and bd, Joseph and Mary didn’t “make” baby Jesus…but I know the point, marriage was created by the society, sometimes religious, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes humanist. I am sure an expert on animals can tell us which other specie “get married”

  • mkb

    Why do atheists marry? To provide positive role models for Christians of course.

  • False Prophet

    Marriage began as a secular institution, so when atheists get married, they’re taking it back from the religionists who’ve taken all the fun out of it. 🙂

  • For the insurance benefits, of course.

    Been happily married for 13 years, been together for 16, “shacking up” for a few. 🙂

  • bernerbits

    *sigh* because atheists don’t fall in love, or desire a permanent commitment to one another. No, atheists are like gays, they just fuck. Right? Atheists don’t buy the cow when they can get the milk for free because there’s no angry invisible father figure telling them they’ll go to hell if they don’t buy the cow. Right?

    I’m so tired of it. I used to have the energy to debate this crap but no more.

  • Right now all I can muster is a facepalm. I can’t believe the blinding, egocentric stupidity in her statement.

  • Kayla

    I want to get married for the simple fact that I am deeply devoted and in love with my partner. We’re planning our life together and at some point in the near future, we will get married. There are a lot of little emotional reasons – I get a little shiver thinking about referring to him as my husband, being called Mrs. His-Last-Name – but a big reason is that I want us to be united. Legally, financially, emotionally – we’re halves to a pair. Adding to that the fact we plan on having children, fostering/adopting, and running a business together, it would be ten times more difficult if we were not wed.

    At least we won’t view our marriage license as our only ticket to banging eachother.

  • Response: “If you think atheism is a religious view, then you’re too dumb to offer me advice on anything else.”

    (Wipes hands)


  • muggle

    Um, because they love each other, stupid! comes to mind. Duh.

    I just hope someone this illiterate isn’t really a “counselor”. I know we all make mistakes typing quickly on the internet (thank you for the edit feature, Hemant) but, geeze, this is beyond that.

  • Not Married

    I personally will never get “married” since marriage is all about property and power of husband over wife, just ask all the fundies. When some there is a civil union of equal partners that recognizes all kinds of family choices, then I’ll consider it. But the whole patriarchal “I give my virgin daughter to you for a price” just makes “marriage” a rank prison sentence. It’s not about love, and that’s what really tweeks the fundies. Because in a gay marriage, who owns who?

    Now if they’d just fix the laws that loving couples who have tied their futures together get the same legal and civil rights as “married” folks get, only without the wife-rape benefits, it would be a much nicer world.

  • littlejohn

    If Jesus was so big on marriage, why didn’t he get hitched? Oh yeah. I read that book. Missed the movie, though.
    OK, so Jesus was married. Dan Brown said so. But his daddy wasn’t married to his mommy. Was Jesus a bastard?

  • Delphine

    Jesus invented marriage and marriage is a Christian institution, that’s why Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, and the rest of those heathens don’t get married. Marriages don’t exist in any culture outside of those that believe in Christianity. Duh. Everyone knows that.

  • Amyable Atheist

    I’m guessing this woman would be the wrong person to describe my current engagement to as “more of an intellectual construct than a start-point-GO date to commence the planning of foufy white things with chiffon and frosting”? That’s just my wymynz intuition, I’m good like that…

  • gwen

    Jebus invented marriage????? I recall that in the biblical myths, Adam and Eve were married, heck, even Mary and Joseph were married!

  • I think this video sums up my response to this.

  • I wrote about this a while ago – here’s a taste:

    We entered a union with each other that makes us better people, that strengthens us, and that offers us support, love, and companionship for a lifelong partnership. It’s a promise we’ve made to each other, and for us, that carries far more weight than any promise we could make to a deity, even if one existed to adjudicate it.

    The important thing to remember is that good ideas are not exclusive to one religion, worldview, or philosophy. Because a social tradition is perceived to have a religious root, it doesn’t negate its benefits or wisdom in a secular context. Of course, marriage is not necessarily religious in origin to begin with (and plenty of animal species mate for life, presumably doing so without guidance from a holy text), though it has that association to many today. But even if it had been spawned exclusively from theism and superstition, the social convention of two human beings opting to become official partners in a loving relationship has purely secular, practical arguments in its favor that require no supernatural covenants layered on top. So the god of my idolatry is no god at all, but a real, beautiful, wonderful human being.

  • Seavee

    That post just demonstrated why faith-based counseling is a bad idea. The woman obviously has limited education.

  • Barbara

    Why do Atheists get married? To cross the freakin’ road. Seriously when you consider that about 50% of marriages end in divorce in the U.S. and only about 10-15% of the population is Atheist I would ask the bigger question: Why do so many christians get marriage wrong?

  • Siamang

    I know this was more fact than help but I’m a counselor for my church

    I think you’ve made my point for me, girlfriend.

    Sorry, professional counseling only. Anyone who starts their marriage counseling with “why do you people marry anyway??” has their head up their ass sideways.

  • cathy

    I agree about the other posters’ point about how atheists can and do love each other, but the queer leftist in me is highly resistent to the notion that marriage is a good thing.

    ‘Why do people marry anyway?” Engels ‘Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ does a pretty good job of answering that one. “It was not in any way the fruit of individual sex-love, with which it had nothing whatever to do; marriages remained as before marriages of convenience. It was the first form of the family to be based, not on natural, but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property. The Greeks themselves put the matter quite frankly: the sole exclusive aims of monogamous marriage were to make the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own. Otherwise, marriage was a burden, a duty which had to be performed, whether one liked it or not, to gods, state, and one’s ancestors. In Athens the law exacted from the man not only marriage but also the performance of a minimum of so-called conjugal duties.” “The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife, and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules.”
    Jane apparantly sees marriage as a duty which has to be performed, regardless of desire, to one’s god. So, without that god, if we are not concerned with maintaining that male-dominated property struture, we should dispose of marriage altogether. Instead of noting that one type of relationship is given greater legal rights and presuming that from there we should follow that relationship model, we should ask instead why that model is given such a priviledged status.

  • weas

    I highly doubt she’s a genuine counsellor. She’s just “borrowing” the word to inflate her ego and standing in her tiny, failing church community.

    In the real word, it doesn’t work lady.

  • cathy

    Sorry, misread the original post, replace Jane with the counsilor.

  • Gavrilo

    The church does make a point (even if she states it in a crazy way): marriage is not only about stating your love for your partner, it’s also a judeo-christian tradition.

    Now I’m an atheist, but I won’t fool myself and say that if I get married it will not be (at least partly) because of the tradition involved, which has a clear religious basis.

    My point is: if we were atheist brought up in a fully atheist world, I don’t think anyone would feel the need to get married, as you show your love and involvment in a couple on a daily basis. There is no strict need for marriage for this.

  • Eric

    You took me away from sodomy for this? What a twit.

  • Gordon

    Every sucessful marriage makes it without god as far as an atheist is concerned.

    If you dont believe in god how can you believe he makes marriages work?

  • Aren’t marriages just pagan ceremonial theatrics?

    If I am correct, there should be no legal benefits or recognition.

    If this is correct, those who want to get married in a church should do it privately, like a closed-casket funeral, where there are no legal benefits (except those in the will).

    I suppose I should be more up on all this, being in Massachusetts and gay. But I don’t believe in marriage either way and find it to be a very selfish act.

    Most people I see just that are married have done it for few reasons. My parent’s generation did because they were “supposed to” to raise a family and blah, blah, blah…

    Now-a-days, no one needs to pro-create to have little helpers with the farm or family. My dad was the youngest of 16, parents from Sicily, there WAS a reason to have many little helpers in that tribe.

    Today I see people who just “Want”;

    “I want a family”….um…didn’t you come from one?

    “I want to raise a child to have all the things I didn’t” …um…need therapy much? It’s not going to bring back your childhood.

    “I want a child because…well because I just do”…..um….go adopt one; you would make a world of difference if you did.

    So why all the baby bashing…well, Marriage usually is followed by it and there is such focus on teen moms and single parents. Even the gays have gotten in on the whole movement, but at least they are trying to adopt the unwanted children of the world.

    Seeing as 50% of marriages end in divorce, and seeing as most religious folks believe that majority says it is a sacred union and we should honor the majority, I say, majority it is! As more than 50% of these sacred unions end in divorce, it’s time to put it back where it belongs…Democratically of course.

    Majority Rule:
    More than half of Religious Unions end in divorce, therefore, the legal status should be taken away from any involved in these said Unions.
    The fact that over 50% of these said Unions leave single parents, “father-less” children, and more economically struggling communities and cultures that drain the “system” for hand-outs and entitlement programs, all legal status and benefit should be removed from any further said Unions.
    This will leave a community to a “Free Market” where each American can utilize their abilities to work hard, pay taxes and live freely among others.

    Sounds stupid?
    Has a ring of truth though…

  • Genesius

    . . .if you don’t believe in the God who formed you how the heck do you think two individuals with two different personalities (A man and woman) can make it without God.

    Gee, I dunno. My parents are both atheists and they celebrated their 61st anniversary this month – want me to ask them how they did it and get back to you?

  • keddaw

    Marriage is wrong. It creates artificial bonds between people leading to a financial penalty should they wish to separate.

    That any state should reward (or punish) people for their choice of living arrangements is immoral and all atheists and liberals should be against it.

    The real problem is that, in America, there is such a huge benefit to being married: healthcare for the spouse and offspring. This is a terrible affliction that America should deal with. It not only forces couples to get married but allows companies to treat their workers like crap knowing the employee cannot leave as it not only affects them, but the healthcare of their whole family. Universal healthcare would solve this.

    To me, marriage is a public declaration of love by people, one that by law only two people can do, which is wrong. They then go and sign a legal document that ties their finances together in a crazy way and that’s it. The state then sticks its nose in and says, “Ah, you two are married rather than living together, have a bunch of benefits.” The state has no business in the promotion of marriage.

    The religious see it as god’s will that a man and a woman be bonded and that’s their right.

    However, a look at the history of marriage would suggest that it has always been about men’s power over women. Initially women were viewed as makeweights in political alliances or trade negotiations. Then as property. Then they were breeding stock. Then they were housewives, unable to earn enough to survive without a husband. Now we have finally got to a stge where women can not only earn enough for themselves, but enough for any children they have. Thus there is no need for marriage at all.

  • Naug

    Anthropology teaches us a couple of things about marriage. It is universal(all cultures on the planet utilize one form or another), and has come in (and comes in) many different forms and shapes.

    I also sort of wonder what this loony thinks about muslims or jews marrying. Or hindus.

    A good lol to start the morning though 🙂

  • pete

    Humans have had ceremonies when forming relationships expected to be long lasting,long before christianity was even thought of id say.

    As some people have suggested it can be kind of like some form of ownership.But maybe often in tribal situations it was more carried out to save on misunderstandings that could sometimes lead to anger and violence and even some people getting killed.

    And the female who wore a ring or whatever it was,no longer needed to keep telling hound dog suitors, time and time and time again where to f**king go!.

    It just often saved on a lot of problems.

  • In my case, besides the normal reasons, we needed the marriage license so that she could obtain a green card and stay in this country with me permanently.

  • Tony

    If Jesus created marriage does that mean his parents were living in sin?

    I thought this was a matter of record…

    I’m a little disappointed with some of the anti-marriage rhetoric on here. especially with the accusation that marriage is inherently for the purpose of male dominance. Suggesting that one needs to be a christian to marry is not any more offensive than being told that one needs to be a misogynist.

  • Grimalkin

    A while back, I was staffing an Atheist info table at a local music festival. Someone came up to me, pointed to my ring, and said “how come your married if you’re an Atheist?”

    We chatted for a while – about why he thought that marriage was a religious thing and what he thought marriage really meant.

    I explained that many Atheists agree that marriage is just a bunch of pomp and ceremony and we can leave it to the religious people. But for others among us, marriage formalizes our relationship in a way that involves our families, our friends, the government, and society at large. That means something, even without the “in the eyes of god” part.

    I told him that while Atheists don’t believe in any gods or the supernatural (such as the concept of “soul mates”), we are certainly capable of love and of the human social need to have that love formally recognized by the various social groups we belong to.

    Marriage wasn’t invented by Jesus. Marriage is just a formalizing of a bond – a public commitment (and one that ideally ought to reflect a pre-existing commitment).

  • Sarah TX

    Man, I had a completely civil marriage. Not a pastor or priest in sight. The “reading” was from Goodrich vs. Massachusettes. No one gave me away. In fact, my spouse and I walked down the aisle together.

    Atheists should be used to being mindful of religious traditions. I think it’s a fallacy to say, “All marriages and all wedding ceremonies are oppressive of women”.

    Also, I got a huuge tax break when I got married because Spouse was still in Grad school. Now that he’s unemployed I’ll get a bigger one. Not that I’ll turn down a second income 🙂

  • Shacking up is the normal way that people that don’t believe in God go.

    It is? I live in Northern Arkansas and this place is about as religious as you can get. Guess what? I know at least three couples that “shack up”, who are not married. You bet, they are church going christians. All three couples.

    I know of three Atheists in my town (me included). Wouldn’t you know it! All three of us are married on our first marriges.

    Hemant, I think you might have been poed on this one. The stereotypes are just too much for me to think that she is for real.

    Grimalkin said,

    A while back, I was staffing an Atheist info table at a local music festival. Someone came up to me, pointed to my ring, and said “how come your married if you’re an Atheist?”

    My answer would have been, “Because I love her.” That stupid question deserved a stupid answer not a rebuttal.

  • Grimalkin

    Sarah TX said:

    Man, I had a completely civil marriage. Not a pastor or priest in sight. The “reading” was from Goodrich vs. Massachusettes. No one gave me away. In fact, my spouse and I walked down the aisle together.

    We did a quick signing of papers in our local city hall with our two witnesses. The whole thing probably took about 15 minutes.

    After that, we went out to the town where most of my family lives and just had a big party. The only whiff of ceremony we had was when our parents each gave a little speech to “bless” the marriage (in the sense of formally approving of the choice of spouse and welcoming that spouse into the family), and then my husband and I gave our vows.

    Both my husband and I are very iffy about having someone be in a position of authority to make the marriage “official,” so we didn’t even want a humanist officiant present. We just wanted family and that was that.

    It’s such a shame that the media and our society tells us that a wedding must have such-and-such components when, in fact, these really aren’t needed. For us, the signing of the documents was just a legal thing that could be done privately – what counted was the official presenting of our relationship to the family, almost like saying “okay, I’m keeping this one. You can let yourself get attached to him.” Plus, any excuse for a party, right?

  • Matt

    I think that civil unions should be for everyone, and marriage for religious types. That way I and other folks of various sexual orientations (I”m straight though) can join in union without a single connotation of religious interference. One of my sisters was married by a notary in a small park, and the other by a minister in a big deal, and the only difference in either sis’s devotion to their spouse is the religiousness of their ceremony.

  • Amyable Atheist

    I’m sad to see the old and completely useless “50% of American marriages end in divorce” statistical punditry being thrown around as it is commonly misinterpreted – that every marriage has a 50/50 chance of failure.

    In reality, divorce rates vary widely depending on demographics, education levels and # of prior marriages. Couples under the age of 25, couples with low levels of education, and couples who have been married previously distort the statistic with substantially higher divorce rates than other demographic categories. My fiance and I, being 28 and 32 respectively and holding post-graduate degrees will have, statistically speaking, a lower than 10% likelihood of divorce.

    The 50% statistic may be technically true but it is entirely meaningless even when interpreted correctly, and entirely false the way it is commonly interpreted and thrown about (dunno – think they’ll make it? 50/50!! Um, no).

  • kathryn

    What gets me about her question is the part about how can a marriage make it without god? Well, my husband and I are going on our 12th year now. And what about the Barna research showing that atheists have the lowest divorce rate and that the rates get higher as religious groups are more fundamantal:
    Jews: 30%; Born Again Christians: 27%; other Christians: 24% — atheists only 21%.

  • JB Tait

    There was a time when a marriage was the official binding of two families, and the ceremony was a chance for them to get to know each other. The couple frequently didn’t love each other, or maybe didn’t even know each other, and the motives were financial or political.

    Then it was a way to obligate the partners to provide for children during the eras when women frequently were unable or not allowed to support themselves.

    This “love” thing seems to have come in a bit before the divorce rate started rising alarmingly. How much do overly optimistic expectations based on affection or hormones lead to disappointment and then to dissolution?

    I see the civil contract and the ritual ceremony as having one common purpose though: They both cement a start date and make it so that the parties can’t later say they didn’t mean it. That gives each partner some assurance they didn’t misunderstand the terms of the arrangement.
    It is so easy to fall into a relationship of living together wherein one party is counting on a lifetime together and the other is just waiting for something better to come along, that making it plain and incontrovertible has value.
    As for Mary, if Torah or Sharia Law had been applied, she would have been stoned, and Jesus would have died in the womb.

  • Arctic Ape

    Slightly off-topic, but I’m curious: How exactly do you get married in United States?

    I mean, are the religious weddings legally relevant without any additional civil wedding/registration? If so, does this apply to all religious denominations, or just some? Do you need to be a member of a denomination to have it wed you? Is there much legal inconsistency between states?

    Thank you in advance. I was wondering because here in Europe marriages usually have to be administered by either civil officials or the state church to be legally binding.

  • ATL-Apostate

    Meh… I was going to reply, but decided to just sodomize some more instead.

  • Grimalkin

    Arctic Ape said:

    I mean, are the religious weddings legally relevant without any additional civil wedding/registration? If so, does this apply to all religious denominations, or just some? Do you need to be a member of a denomination to have it wed you? Is there much legal inconsistency between states?

    I’ve never been married in the US, but in Canada, it’s a fairly simple system.

    The first step is getting the documentation. You need to go down to a designated registration office (I went to city hall, but my sister-in-law went to one across town in the basement of the city library!). That’s where you give them all your ID and relevant documents (proof of divorce/death of spouse if previously married, birth certificate, photo ID, that sort of thing).

    I believe that this has to be done no more than a month and no fewer than 2-3 days prior to the ceremony.

    At the ceremony, you need a legally licensed officiant. They bring the forms that need signing and you bring the paper that says that you did get all your ID checked out. You then sign the papers, along with your two witnesses and the officiant, and the officiant then mails them off to the government. You get a temporary marriage certificate and, after a certain amount of time, you can order a copy of a real certificate (with security marks and all that).

    I don’t know what the process is to be an officiant. I know that the government has some, and of course many priests, imams, and rabbis have the status. In my humanist group, we have four qualified officiants (one recently retired).

  • MH

    Arctic Ape, it’s been a while since I got married, but basically there is a religious and civil part of being married. The clergyman can perform the religious part and sign the civil documents which makes it legally binding.

    For example Jews sign a Ketubah during their wedding to be married in their religion. But they still need to sign and file the forms with the civil authorities to make it binding in the eyes of the government.

    For people who aren’t religious a Justice of the Peace can perform a wedding. In some states it is possible to get married by a friend if they file the right forms.

    A complication to the above statement is that the US is 50 states which each might have slightly different laws about how this works.

  • Simple answer: in the Christian sense of the word, we don’t. As far as God would be concerned, if he existed, since no religious official was involved, and no religious ceremony took place, I’m not at all certain that he’d consider me to be married. Even despite the piece of paper I signed. And I agree. A legal contract is not equivalent to a marriage. The government should call all such contracts what they are (i.e. civil unions), and keep out of matters that just aren’t any of their business (i.e. my relationships, committed or otherwise!) Wouldn’t it solve some major problems if they did? No need to bother sorting out the whole controversy if they’d just get out of the marriage business altogether!

  • Doug Dastardly

    I hope this woman has her tubes tied; it would be criminal to have her reproduce.

    To answer her question, they get married
    because they are in love or in lust or both.
    Just like everyone else.

  • dersk

    Please pass this on to that dimwitted counselor (nobody was married before the year 0 CE?):

    My atheist wife got married for two reasons:

    1. To have a great party in which everyone we care about gets together to celebrate our love for each other.

    2. To make a commitment to each other in front of all the people we care about.

    Seriously, I’d be more than happy to have a conversation with this ‘counselor’ to explain these things to her…

  • Catherine

    RobertMadewell, I am the “Jane” from this post. The reason I contacted Hemant was because I was so shocked that someone could say something this sterotypical, even a fundie. Since you think this was made up, I have posted the link to the message board page below. You may or may not be able to view it because sometimes only members can view posts in certain forums.

    I responded to her with the civil/legal reasons that many posters suggested and have not received a response from her although several people came to my defense


  • anonymouse

    They really should stop letting mentally handicapped people use message boards. This lady was absurd.

  • personally, I think some christians should be comedians. this is too funny to take seriously

  • gwen

    You guys have to remember that in most states ANYONE can hang out a shingle to call themselves ‘marriage counselors’ with absolutely NO training, relevant or otherwise!

  • Jen

    I don’t understand why people get married,* either, Crazy Christian Woman Who is Also Rude, but I am not going to ask complete strangers to explain themselves.** And even if I did, I would accept that people have their reasons, even if I don’t understand them. People do all sorts of things I don’t understand, but I live and let live, and focus on more important things.

    *Oh my Dawkins, a lifetime is a long time to like one person.

    ** I might. But I would at least pretend to be embarrassed, and I would not assume their marriage didn’t count just because they were a different religion than me.

  • ursulamajor

    This “counselor” illustrates the point that many christians deep down don’t really think that we are fully human.


    I come from an atheist/agnostic family. My hubby’s family are holy rollers. When I mentioned a rough spot my brother and his wife were going through, my mother-in-law told me that if our family would just start going to church, these things wouldn’t happen. She wasn’t happy when I pointed out that there were 5 divorces out of her 6 kids and that there were NO divorces between me and my two brothers.

  • Fallopia Tuba

    Tulani writes:

    “And bd, love your comment about if Jesus created marriage then wouldn’t his parents have been living in sin!”

    Of course Mary and Joseph were living in sin; that’s why they called it the “virgin birth” (wink wink.)

  • JB Tait

    @Arctic Ape
    It varies by state, and in some states such as PA, by county.
    Up until 2005, PA recognized common law marriages. Apparently it was enough to introduce someone as your spouse to qualify, but since then a licence is required. There was also self-marriage (for the Amish, I believe) wherein the bride and groom merely said “I marry you,” the usual religious marriages, and civil marriages. After 2005, all methods required a licence.
    You apply for a licence, wait 3 days, receive the licence, make a pledge (within 60 days), fill in the form saying the marriage was solemnized, and send it in. A few weeks later you receive a certificate.

    I contacted the state government to ask who was permitted to officiate, and was told that in addition to people like Judges, Justices of Peace, and County Clerks, and Mayors, if your “congregation” recognized your authority to marry them, then that was sufficient.
    Since the couple I was marrying accepted my online ordination as good enough for them, I qualified.
    Apparently it works much like this in MA too, as my daughter’s ceremony was conducted by a Wikkan.
    Here is a table summarizing the other states’ requirements.

  • JB Tait

    On reading the current laws of MA, the situation may have changed. They seem to have listed the acceptable officiants specifically and they have left out quite a number of organizations.
    They have, however, included the American Ethical Union in the list but it looks like a Wikkan would have to apply to be recognized.
    Still, since they accept “a duly ordained minister of the gospel in good and regular standing with his church or denomination” then a ULC ordination should qualify. There is no need to have any Faith to be ordained there, just the intent to “do what is right.”
    And though it seems to be a joke (I thought I was the victim of a prank when I was encouraged to sign up–it was free, so I figured no harm done) it is legitimate and comes in handy.

  • nerdiah

    I kind of see her point, despite the rude way she puts it.

    My partner and I (both atheists) only got married so that I could get a temporary visa to another country while he went there for two years for work. We found it was necessary despite the fact that we’d been together for 9 years and had a baby on the way, but if the laws in the countries involved had been more progressive, we wouldn’t have needed to and so wouldn’t have bothered.

    I know other atheists for whom marriage was primarily about getting legal recognition and protections that weren’t available otherwise. But of course it’s also a way to celebrate a union and to formalise it for friends and family.

  • Arctic Ape

    Thank you, Grimalkin, MH, JB.

    So it seems that officiant rights can be granted for nearly anyone who asks for them, at least in some places. Here in Finland they are limited to the two “national” churches (Lutheran and Orthodox) and a few types of civil officials. If you want, say, a Catholic or Muslim wedding, you need an additional civil ceremony. The Finnish Freethinker Union has critisized this, saying that officiant rights should be granted for either all religious/secular organizations or none of them. I think that latter is the case in many European countries.

  • I got married because I love my partner and want to spend the rest of my life with him. We married as a symbol of our commitment. What does that have to do with God?

  • I love what bd wrote:

    If Jesus created marriage does that mean his parents were living in sin?

    Marriage is nothing more than a civil contract. Some people may include God and/or Jesus as a part of their marriage (religious orgy thought in my head), but in the end, it’s just a legal means of saying “we are protected in the eyes of the law”

    My advice to Jane, as has already been given by others, is to seek out non-religious marriage counselors to help find the non-religious issues in this marriage.

    Being open and honest here, a good part of my divorce was based on me not being able to do the religion thing anymore. And if your marriage is tied to that in any sort of way, there will be some issues that may not be able to be resolved.

  • But what’s wrong with sodomizing each other? 🙁


  • llewelly

    Folks, Mary and Joesph were NOT living in sin. The bible duly records that YHWVH fisted the baby Jesus into the womb of Mary. (Ouch!) The conflicting genealogies given for Joesph in the gospels are in no way relevant to the parentage of Jesus Christ, because Joesph was not his father.

  • JB Tait

    @Arctic Ape Thank you for that information.
    I sometimes wonder if marriage should be made harder to get into so that folks will be more likely to consider it carefully, though I am not sure how to do that.

    I don’t think we differ significantly from Finland, here in most states, since we need the civil documents, even if we don’t need the civil ceremony.

    Looking at marriage requirements and divorce statistics won’t tell us anything though, because cultural attitudes have more effect on both than one would have on the other.

    Would anyone care to comment on whether being atheist reduces one’s chance of divorce, perhaps from not feeling obligated to marry as someone of Faith might? Or possibly does it increase it for not being afraid of being sentenced to Hell for seeking a divorce?

  • JJR

    If I recall, St. Paul was kind of lukewarm at best on marriage. He was basically like “okay, if you just can’t keep it in your pants, at least get hitched, ok?”, but would’ve preferred everyone stay celibate, single, and focused on God/Jesus…

    Then there was St. Jerome, Mr. aka “blessed is he who smashes his testicles with a stone.”

    I read up on these guys when I was a teen going through puberty and decided Xtianity was totally f*cked, pardon the pun.

    If I ever do remarry, it will have to be with another atheist next time around. First time around I married a wavering Christian who seemed on the verge of agnosticism/atheism. I ended up divorcing a control freak who morphed back into a raging fundie.

  • TXatheist

    My liberal UU theistic wife and this atheist celebrate our 10th anniversary this week. We talked about all the important issues thoroughly before getting married is how our marriage survives very well.

  • Marriage has its roots in property law and inheritance rights, not religion. Even in the old testament, marriage is often more about property and inheritance than religion or love.

    I like to think we’ve evolved beyond that now. Women are not chattel, men do not have to be paid for marrying a woman, and sex is (can be) an expression of love, not an exchange of physical service for recognition of resultant offspring.

    This woman is apparently ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of many things outside her own context, and she lacks the skepticism and inquisitiveness to re-examine her own basic assumptions regarding things for which she has no firsthand knowledge.

    Why get married if you’re an atheist? Well, you don’t have to, but it’s a formal, legal declaration of two people’s life long commitment to each other, and it does greatly simplify inheritance rights with or without offspring. It need have nothing to do with belief in any deities or supernatural entities, real or imagined.

  • Squid

    According to the apocryphal Book of Adam and Eve, Satan invented marriage.

    I am not making this up.

  • Andy

    Personally, I don’t get married. I do indeed believe that marriage is a religious institution, and don’t need a religious institution to validate the relationship I have with my long term girlfriend.

  • Polly


    My liberal UU theistic wife and this atheist celebrate our 10th anniversary this week.

    Congratulations! My Xian wife and I also celebrated our deca-anniversary, recently.

  • Joffan

    Well, it’s really hard to type during sodomy, but….

    Marriage is a public* commitment between two people to be the principle support for each other. Society recognizes the value of two people having such mututal support and sometimes “sponsors” such commitment with special inheritance and other law. Typically the marriage also gives the parties some legal obligation towards and control over each other.

    There’s no particular reason, with the current version of marriage (whatever it came from historically), why it should be restricted to religious people, and every reason it might well appeal to most people at some stage of their lives.

    [* I object to marriages that are not public, whether they are in restricted buildings (eg. temples) or in hostile environments (eg. underwater), since I hold that a marriage should be a joint statement to society-at-large.]

  • Steven

    Clearly, anyone who thinks marriage is about male dominance hasn’t met any of the women in my family. I recall my (now deceased, sadly) stepfather-in-law lecturing about the subtle ways his mother retained control while giving his father the illusion that he was “wearing the pants in the family”. I think he bemoaned the fact that “modern women” don’t bother with the illusion anymore. I like to think that my wife of ten years and I are partners and it’s only a coincidence that she usually gets what she wants. I’ve tried telling her that according to the Bible I’m in charge but she always responds: “So? You’re an atheist”.
    I should have known that was going to bite me on the backside one day. I can’t even pull the “Well, you’re a Christian” card on her since she’s agnostic. We got married because we love each other and it clearly has nothing to do with God.

  • My wife (nominally Christian) and I (nominally atheist) have always told anyone who asks that marriage, the ceremony, is for everyone else, and that if you are not already committed to each other before you walk up the aisle a piece of paper and a prayer are not going to keep you together.

    So why did we get married? To show to our friends, family, and community that we had made a committment to each other and that we intended to keep it.

    Funny story: We were married in my wife’s family’s church where the vows ended with the bride and groom saying “I will, with the help of God.” The pastor literally would not perform the ceremony if I didn’t add the second clause. Since I was far more interested in marrying my wife than making a scene, I went ahead and said “with the help of God.” Ever since, my wife and I have said that if we didn’t stay married it would be because God didn’t do his part.

    Funnier story: The pastor that officiated at our wedding was fired by the church a year later. Turned out that he was having an affair with one of the member of the church — looks like God wasn’t interested in him staying married. 22 years later we’re still together even if God wasn’t interested.

  • oh, goodness, Catherine, I just clicked on the link. CM explains it! I stay away from those message boards! haha! My goodness, you can’t read a page without someone attacking someone else on that site! 😀

  • Jennifer

    Responding to a comment like Jane’s is pretty much pointless. She believes in an invisible man in the sky. How can you reason with someone like that?

  • Samantha

    I actually had a very similar conversation to this with a co-worker of mine this week. She was expressing her disapproval about my fiance and I living together before marriage, and the child involved, which is his. She was questioning my morals, and I actually told her, that I felt co-habitating was a good idea, and could probably prevent a lot of divorces. After the fact, I was researching some statistics and apparently conservative christians have the highest divorce rate among any “religious” group. I say religious loosely as agnostic, and atheist aren’t technically “religions”. I can see all too clearly now, why this divorce rate is so high, they are putting their marriage into someone else’s hands and not owning any of their own problems expecting them to be magically fixed.

  • Anjie C

    I am currently engaged to my long term boyfriend of some 15 years or so. We are often asked the same question.

    For us Atheists marriage is about the love for each other not the need to please a higher power.

    Some people think because we do not believe in god we are not capable of knowing love and that is absurd.

    The only thing to say to such ignorance is we love each other just like Christians love each other we just choose to have a wedding without the bible.

  • sweet lemons

    This reminds me of an article encouraging Christians to marry young largely so they can avoid the immorality of premarital sex. Perhaps this explains their high divorce rate?


  • Bobby

    Hindu is the oldest of the world’s major religions. It evolved from the Vedic religion of ancient India and they performed marriage; however you will never be able to convince a Christian that the world is older that 6000+ years old and you will never convince them that the dinosaur came before Adam and Eve.

  • Nicolle

    Marriage is a custom first, and only later a religious ceremony.

    Mind your own business. 

  • TWhite

     saw something on a friends wall about how ATHEISTS are ruining marriage and what it stands for…. HERE IS MY ANSWER(I am ATHEIST)”I resent that being an atheist. You do not have to believe in god to have a loving relationship based on trust , love and honor. Actually, being the only atheist in my family, I am the only one to yet have a divorice. kinda says something about religion. It’s the peop…le that make marriage, not who you pray to. PS, I was also married in the same church as my mother and father on their anniversary, by our town preacher(who knows I am an atheist), he was all for it, saying it was a union of love, not religion. ♥ Just something to think about.”Not trying to offend anyone, but I FIRMLY believe if you love someone(reguardless of gender, race, or religion) MARRIAGE is a union between 2 people. ANY 2 people. I want to point out also that a survey done by Barna Research Group (1999) shows 21% of Athiest have been divoriced compaired to 30% of Christians…..The world will never become a better place until people focus on the person, cause, or problem, INSTEAD of always focusing on RELIGION!

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